Office Emails – Should We All Have the Right to Disconnect?

author Kerensa Johnson, January 11, 2017

Email Communication | Claromentis

From January 1st 2017, employees in France have the legal “right to disconnect” from work emails outside of business hours. This new law, allowing employees to avoid any work related emails in the evenings and weekends, will affect businesses with 50 or more staff. Eligible companies will be obliged to create a policy which sets out the hours when emails should not be sent out or replied to.

The change has been welcomed by those who fear that the work-life balance is at tipping point, where the growing trend of being “always on” has intensified due to the overuse of technology. Indeed, there’s been many reports of workers feeling burnt out, stressed, and fatigued because their work has leaked into their personal life.

The inbox has long been the bane of every worker’s life, with employees spending an average of 4.1 hours a day on emails. That’s more than half of the typical working day, and a lot of that time will be spent out of office hours. It’s clear that something needs to be done to reduce the adverse effects of too many emails.

Emails drain productivity

The constant switching between inbox and task puts a stopper on productivity. Often you’ll receive an email that’s completely unrelated to the task you’re doing, therefore distracting your attention from one topic to another. Trying to get back to your original train of thought before the interruption is difficult and time-consuming. It takes an average of 23 minutes to re-focus on the task at hand after checking your emails, and when most of us check several times a day, it all adds up to a significant amount of wasted time.

Email was not meant to be a communication tool

We’ve written before about how there are better ways to communicate than by email. For instance, urgent questions should be asked in person, and general enquiries can be submitted on the staff intranet. But over time, emails have been adopted as a catch-all tool for organising meetings, hiring and firing, asking questions, and making critical business decisions, all of which should be communicated elsewhere. And when you consider that the original intention of email was to act as a virtual Post-It note, you start to realise how ineffective it is as a communication tool.

Disconnecting and switching off

It’s true that the world of work is changing, with the 9-5 office culture becoming increasingly inflexible and irrelevant. Some people want to work different hours on different days, and in other locations than the office. Providing workers with this flexibility is key to promoting a healthy work-life balance, allowing employees to fit work around their personal life rather than the other way round.

However, letting work and home life intertwine can start to become a problem if left unchecked. If business hours continue getting wider and longer, and the expectation of being “always on” grows, then it’s no wonder people are starting to feel burnt out.

The new “right to disconnect” law in France certainly addresses some of the issues of being overworked, but perhaps doesn’t solve the root cause. A workplace culture that expects staff to be always available, no matter what the time or cost, should be tackled head on to ensure staff are protected. But as a start at least, less time spent on emails can only be a good thing.


How does your business handle out of hours working? Let us know in the comments below!